by Jenniferlyn (JL) Chiemingo
“Yoga Sutra 11.36: Dedicated to truth and integrity (Satya), our thoughts words and actions gain the power to manifest.” – Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi
I came to yoga for the physical, but somehow the truth of the practice, the raw honesty it required, snuck up on me. I’ve been a teacher for over twelve years and so many times I watch students come for the body sculpting and walk away when the yoga started to penetrate them—when the yoga started to ask more of them than physical postures.
I would often watch students who were wavering in their practice, knowing they would either choose ‘the path’ or walk away. Once you begin this path of awakening, if you stay, you absolutely have to do the work.
Almost all the classes I teach are wrapped around a theme. So many times, my themes were about truth, about authenticity, about being who you really are and living freely and honestly.
I said all this, I knew all this, and still there was this one lie, a big lie that I hid about myself, about my past. I hid it from my students. I hid it from my yoga colleagues. I hid it from my best friends, from my family members. Only my husband knew and I only told him once.
I was afraid of what others would think of me if they knew the truth. I didn’t want anyone to know, least of all my students. For years it was easy to stuff it away, compartmentalize it, and believe it wasn’t necessary for me to share. I was certain it would hurt my reputation, damage my career. Yoga teachers are held to high standards—and I had to live up to them. I had to maintain my integrity, but was it real without sharing my whole story?
The story starts like this: We grew up together. His family was like my family. We dated in high school. We married when I was 22 years old. I was always a go-getter, a strong spirit, a good student, and an over-achiever. I was all these things and I got into an abusive marriage.
It didn’t start out that way. He never physically hurt me. No one ever knew the reality. There were no scars, cuts, bruises. Instead there were words: bitch, cunt, stupid. There were controls: his name only on the checking account, his name only on the lease, his name only on the credit cards. There were rules: I had to ask for permission to drink a glass of wine. I had to ask if I could visit with my friends after work. No scars. Just my spirit, my heart, my mind, my self-esteem all crumbling day after day.
Over the years my friends and family came to know or at least suspect the abuse. But what no one ever knew, what I couldn’t speak of, was the truth of what happened on that August evening in 1993.
We’d been married just about a month and I’d just graduated college landed a new job as a News Producer in the Midwest. Soon after we moved to Illinois, we drove past a farm sign advertising free kittens. He knew I loved kittens.
“Would you like a kitten, Jen?” he asked, slowing the car down. It was moments like this one that kept me in our relationship. I felt in my heart he tried. He said we could get a kitten! I was thrilled.
I found the sweetest one. The runt of the litter, hiding in the back. Sweet, fuzzy Rebel. He had a little black dot on the white part of his face, his cheek. “Like a kitty Cindy Crawford,” I said as we drove home with Rebel in my lap. In the day that followed, I marveled at his wet pink and black nose, his white paws; this kitten was softness in my life.
The reprieve lasted about two weeks. It was a Saturday night and I had done something wrong. Something to make him mad. Very mad. We were in the living room of our new apartment—sparsely furnished, pictures and shelving still waiting to be put on the walls. Most of the time I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, there were so many possibilities.
It was the same every time. I apologized and searched my mind for what I could have done wrong this time.
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what I said!”
I couldn’t believe we were fighting AGAIN. Different day, same story. I did something that gained too much attention or I didn’t ask permission for something. All I knew for sure, was that I had to apologize. I always apologized.
“I am so sorry. I won’t do it again.”
But he was angrier than usual this time. I felt it in my gut. He was steadfast, ready to boil over. Maybe I him pushed him too far that time. He had never physically hurt anyone. But for the first time I was afraid he would.
It happened so fast. One minute he was yelling at me, the next minute he scooped Rebel up and threw him with all his strength. Rebel hit the wall hard and fast. I screamed. I started to gag like I was going to vomit. But I gathered myself and ran for the kitten.
When I touched his crumpled body on the floor his fur felt softer than ever. Rebel looked at me with big forgiving hazel eyes, almost trying to tell me he knew it wasn’t my fault. But was it? He was bleeding from his nose, but purring as he gazed up at me. Would Rebel die? What should I do!? No one can ever know.
I had no idea how I would explain this to a vet. I couldn’t pay for Rebel to go to a vet anyways. I had a great job, but made very little money. We weren’t even supposed to have a cat in our apartment.
I didn’t want to do it. But he insisted I take Rebel to a shelter. He said it was the only way. Told me to say I found him, hurt. I was to say he wasn’t mine. Maybe someone there will fix him.
He drove me and Rebel to the shelter. We stood in the parking lot together. I begged, I pleaded with him to not have to do it. After witnessing what he could do to Rebel, a small defenseless kitten, there was some part of me that knew he could do that to me. I gave in because I was afraid to push too far. And from that day on, the witnessing of his anger and the knowing it could happen to me next, kept me controlled, and kept me in obedience.
He stayed in the car while I carried Rebel inside. The shelter was cold, packed with cats, even a little stinky. There were lots of meows, lots of sadness.
After I told my lie and handed my kitten over the woman told me Rebel would be euthanized in three days if no one claimed him. I watched him be carried away, still bleeding from his nose, knowing he was visibly injured and knowing no one would claim him.
For days I cried. I agonized. I begged. “Please, please, can’t’ we go back and get Rebel? Can’t we take him to a vet and help him?”
“NO!” he said each time. “No one will ever know about this.”
The third day came. I was inconsolable. I somehow felt the pain and the guilt of harming sweet Rebel outweighed what consequences I would face. I asked again and he finally gave in. I knew I made the money in the relationship and that ultimately he had no choice. Besides, in my heart, I felt he couldn’t handle the guilt either. I’d convinced myself of that. He didn’t mean it, I thought. It was a big mistake.
I went to get Rebel alone. No questions from the shelter. Rebel was alive. I re-adopted him for $75 dollars.
This was the story I lied about my whole adult life. We had moved far from home, but when I next called my mother and best friend I mentioned that poor Rebel was injured when a shelf we were installing fell on his head. The truth about Rebel got folded into the story I told the world every day, that I was fine, that I was happily married.
It wasn’t until four years later, when I discovered he had been having an affair that I found the courage to leave. Somehow I could tolerate the abuse all these years, but an affair was the last straw. My dad had many affairs during my parents’ marriage and this woke me up.
I was still worried about my safety. But on a sunny, hot, humid August day in 1997, I walked away. I picked up Rebel and we moved out of our apartment while he was working and into a place I found all on my own. MY place. My cat. My Choice.
I sat on the floor of MY living room, cracked open a bottle of wine (without asking permission). I hugged Rebel and looked deep into those golden hazel eyes.
‘We are in this together. We always have been. We can do this.”
I stayed in abusive relationship for ten years. He was my high school sweetheart. I’d been in this relationship from age 16 to 26. I stayed because I thought I had to, I thought I deserved it, I thought once I married him – I lost the choice to leave.
It took me seven years but I told the truth about my marriage to my mother, to my friends, to my sister. In the meantime I got married to a husband who never calls me a name, who insists I have my own checking account, who supports me in all my power and potential, I had a son, and I entered the practice and teaching of yoga.
But I continued to hide this truth about Rebel because what it said about me. I was in a position of inspiring, leading. It was hard to admit when I wasn’t standing in my own light, my own truth.
The role of teaching has now forced me to face this final bit of shame, lies. I need to stand in my truth, no secrets. I hope to inspire other women to claim their power too. To speak and live in truth.
The practice of yoga requires truthfulness. The first limb of yoga is clear on that. I feel that truthfulness pulling on my heart every day. I held back the truth for so long, afraid of judgment, afraid of a loss of credibility, afraid no one would ever trust someone who abandoned her wounded kitten in a shelter because she was too afraid to do the right thing for herself or even a helpless animal. Fear and control and shame keep us caged. It is up to us to stand strong, to not allow anyone to dim that Divine light.
Yoga came to liberate me. Rebel was my Savoir. Rebel’s unwavering love showed me I was deserving. Here I stand committed to Satya. I am committed to doing my part to stop abuse of all kinds. I am manifesting that truth for all women in a relationship like this one. I am telling my story.
Jenniferlyn’s goal is to provide her yoga students with the opportunity to experience genuine Joy and Love every time they step onto the mat! JL’s yoga teaching style is a creation all her own. Influenced by yoga greats like Shiva Rea and Seane Corn, she is both flowing and grounded. Her classes are joyful, loving, spiritual and inspiring. JL has taught for more than 12 years in Seattle. She teaches at national yoga festivals, including Wanderlust California and Pranafest, and leads inspiring and fun yoga retreats all over the world. This year, JL will partner with The Travel Yogi (www.thetravelyogi.com) to lead retreats in Costa Rica, Galapagos and in Bali. Want to take a class with JL? Check her out anytime on Yogis Anonymous.com.
Friend, follow or fan JL on Facebook, Twitter (@jenniferlynyoga), Instagram (joyloveyoga) and of course at her own website – www.joyloveyoga.com
Thank you for sharing!! I also was in an abusive relationship. Mostly verbal. The last straw was him threatening to throw my two small dogs out the window of our (moving) car. Your story has me in tears. You captured in words,my innermost raw emotions. Feelings I “put away”, stuff & hide. They don’t stay hidden for long. They resurface when I’m angry or unhappy. Reading your article reminds me I’m not alone. Thank you!
Oh my goodness. What a story. When I was reading, I felt so much for you – frightened, sad, angry. Those years 16-26, I describe as the years where we learn about what we don’t want. I think you judge yourself too harshly, when in fact you did as well as you could with what you knew. what else can you do? Now you know better, you do better. Much love xo
Tears. Such a powerful story and message. Thank you for sharing your story – I love you all the more for it!
Thank you so much for being courageous and telling your story. I was in an abusive relationship for a year. We had 2 or 3 physical altercations, but no bruises, scrapes, etc. It was mostly emotional. And the funny part was, I knew in my logical brain that I needed to leave. That this wasn’t right. I knew it was bad for me. But I stayed anyway. I felt I deserved it because I hadn’t always acted my best self in previous relationships with really nice guys. In fact, when I broke up with my ex-husband (one of the nicest guys in the world), I told myself, “Maybe I need to be in an abusive relationship in order to be grateful for all these other guys.” Funny how we manifest things.
I understand the fear of destroying the image we’ve made for people, especially when we are leaders, mentors, etc. But the truth will always set us free.
Thank you again for your bravery.
This is such an incredible, powerful piece. It is never the fault of the person abused. I just read a quote today about how what we go through has nothing to do with us, it is only how we got through it that makes us the person we are today. I am so sorry you ever had to endure such a terrifyingly unfair situation. None of those words had anything to do with you, nor would they ever. Your students are blessed to have you as a teacher! I’ve recently been trying yoga, more for that part you talk about, that’s more than the physical, now. You write it so well. Thanks for sharing, and once again I’m sorry (but so glad you emerged free and with Rebel)! I’m a cat lover too and it’s heartbreaking that you had to witness that, but this whole story speaks of your immeasurable heart.
My heart goes with you .. I am into an abusive relationship for 17 years .. And dont know where it leads me
Thank you for sharing!
OH, Rebel. Beautiful Rebel, who saved your life. He came to save your life.
I was in a similar abusive relationship for a time. He moved in with me and my rescue dog. My dog hated him and I sensed it was because my dog (Paisley) knew he was wrong for me. One day, the guy was being a dick to Paisley and Paisley bit him high up on his inner thigh–badly. The guy threw a balled-up belt at Paisley. I ran to the shower to escape, and when I came out, Paisley was sitting next to the tub, anxiously watching the door for the guy to come in. I crumpled into a ball of tears and hugged Paisley close to my still-wet skin. We kicked the guy to the curb shortly thereafter. Paisley was my saving grace, like Rebel was for you. I’m so glad you’re both thriving with life and love now. <3